Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Boston Theater Review: A Little Night Music -- Huntington

Morgan Kirner and Lauren Molina. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
A Little Night Music
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company, Boston

A Breezy Trip to the Swedish Country (or to Boston, as the Case May Be)
By Lauren Yarger
I don't get to Boston as often as I'd like for some of the fine theater over there, but sometimes it really is worth the trip (and fighting the traffic and paying outrageous parking fees). Huntington Theatre's production of A Little Night Music is worth the trip.

The recent revival on Broadway of the Stephen Sondheim classic about love, sex and relationships in turn-of-the-19th-Century Sweden was such a disappointment, that I was yearning for a really good production. Huntington delivers with  with an outstanding show featuring top-notch performances and taught, fresh direction by Huntington's Artistic Director Peter DuBois.

Tony and Olivier Award nominee Haydn Gwynne stars as Desiree Armfeldt, an aging actress who rekindles a love affair with Frederik Egerman (Stephen Bogardus), who married a very young friend of the family, 18-year-old virgin Anne (a fabulous Morgan Kirner) who begs her husband to be patient while she gets used to the idea of maybe having sex with him some day.... Meanwhile, she spends her days tormenting Frederik's shy, introverted son, Henrik (Pablo Torres) who takes comfort in playing the cello.

Because Desiree leads a hectic life on the road, her mother, the formidable Madame Armfeldt (Bobbie Steinbach) insists that Desiree's  young daughter, Frederika (Lauren Weintraub) be raised with her in the country at her sprawling chateau (Madame Armfeldt has acquired vast wealth through a series of her own liaisons....)

Desiree convinces her mother to throw a weekend party to which Frederik and Anne are invited. Complicating things, however, is the unexpected arrival of Desiree's jealous lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Mike McGowan) and his bitter wife, Charlotte (Lauren Molina), who collaborates with Anne to break up Desiree and Frederik.

The book by Hugh Wheeler, is based on the film "Smiles of a Summer Night" by Ingmar Bergman,  This musical version contains classics like "Send in the Clowns," "A Weekend in the Country,"The Miller's Son," and others, with musical direction here by Jonathan Mastro. The simple set pieces (scenic design by Derrick McLane)  glide on and off stage to create different settings and moods without interrupting the flow of the story (much like the original on Broadway which was pioneering in this technique). Dreamy lighting by Jeff Croiter enhances the settings. Beautiful  costumes by Robert Morgan put us in the period. Choreography by Daniel Pelzig seems a bit forced at times, especially for the Quintet (Andrew O'Shanick, Wendl Bargamini, Amy Barker, Nick Seffaro and Amy Doherty)..

Madame Armfeldt instructs Frederika to watch for the night to smile three times: once for the young who know nothing, once for the fools who know too little and a third time for the old who know too much. I submit that this night smiled a fourth time on a superb production of this musical, which has a very difficult score. Voices across the board are great and this production features some standout performances that rival any I have seen, including the original on Broadway.

Gwynne is a strong and capable Desiree who also is vulnerable. She gave me goosebumps while singing "Send in the Clowns,"as she expresses her regrets at chances lost. Bogardus excels at the comical aspects of frustrated Frederik and Torres expands on the inherited quality as he becomes one with his cello (in a very nicely done "Later.") McCaela Donovan is a feisty and lusty Petra (Madame Armfeldt's maid who gets around) and Molina gives new dimension to the pain Charlotte feels (and DuBois gives some new takes on what she must endure being married to pompous, selfish Carlos-Magnum).

Steinbach is a hoot as the crusty old Madame Armfeldt. Let's just say that if pressed to choose my favorite actress in the role, Steinbach just might beat out Angela Lansbury in the Broadway revival and Hermione Gingold in the original. Loved her! And even more of a spotlight needs to be shone on Kirner, who is one of the best Annes I ever have seen, She's fresh and funny and adorable and you totally understand why Frederik abandoned all sense to marry her (and why another is madly in love with her). Well done.

A Little Night Music runs through Oct. 11 at Huntington's BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Performances are Select Evenings: Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; select Sundays . at 7 pm; Matinees: Select Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: Single tickets starting at $25 and FlexPasses are on sale huntingtontheatre.org; 617 266 0800; Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave. and the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA Box Office, 527 Tremont St. in Boston’s South End.

Other Events being held in conjunction with the run of the show:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 23 after the 7:30 pm performance: Join WBUR’s Ed Siegel and Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois for a post-show conversation about directing Sondheim’s A Little Night Music
  • STUDENT MATINEE -- Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 am: For students in grades 9–12. Tickets: $15. Includes pre-show in-school visit, curriculum guide, post-show Actors Forum, and Dramatic Returns card for each student. Call 617 273 1558 for more information.
  • ACTORS FORUMS -- Thursday, Sept. 24 after the 10 am performance (student matinee); Thursday, Oct. 1 after the 7:30 pm performance; Wednesday, Oct. 7 after the 2 pm performance. Meet participating members of the cast of A Little Night Music and ask them your questions.
  • AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE-INTERPRETED PERFORMANCES -- Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 am (student matinee); Friday, Oct. 2 at 8 pm.Seating for each ASL-interpreted performance is located in the orchestra, house left. Tickets are $20 for each Deaf patron and an additional $20 ticket can be purchased for a guest. To reserve tickets, please contact Access Coordinator Meg O’Brien at mobrien@huntingtontheatre.bu.edu.
  • HUMANITIES FORUM, BOSTON GLOBE & ARTWEEK EVENT: Sunday, Sept. 27 after the 2 pm performance, join Boston Globe Assistant Arts Editor Steve Smith and Music Director Jonathan Mastro for an in depth discussion about the music of Stephen Sondheim. 
  • POST SHOW CONVERSATION  -- Saturday, Oct. 3 after the 2 pm performance. Join Huntington dramaturg Charles Haugland and Christopher Caggiano, musical theatre faculty member at The Boston Conservatory, for a compelling conversation about A Little Night Music and the legacy of Stephen Sondheim.
  • POST SHOW CONVERSATION -- Sunday, Oct. 4 after the 2 pm performance. Join Huntington dramaturg Charles Haugland and Scott LaFeber, head of the musical theatre program at Emerson College, for a discussion about the show.
  • POST-SHOW AUDIENCE CONVERSATIONS LED BY MEMBERS OF THE HUNTINGTON STAFF -- After most Tuesday - Friday, Saturday matinee, and Sunday matinee performances.
  • The entire cast will perform the National Anthem on Friday, Sept. 25 at Fenway Park before the televised Red Sox versus Orioles game at 7:10 pm. Old Town Trolley will transport the cast from Fenway Park to the BU Theatre immediately following the Anthem for the evening’s 8 pm performance.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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